Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"Dealer Dave" vs. the "Warsaw Blogger"

US Antiquities Dealer Condones Buying 'Endangered' Artefacts from Middle East

Over in the US, dealers seem to be prone to following  James Cuno in his NYT response in suggesting that in order to "save them" from the brown-skinned folk in the unruly colonies, a more enlightened elite of "western antiquarians" should buy looted artefacts. Typical of such an attitude is Dealer Dave ("Classical Coins"), writing on the IAPN and PNG sponsored blogger's "Cultural Property Observer":
Cola's well-reasoned and well-informed comments paint a bleak picture indeed for Western antiquarians interested in ancient civilizations located not only in modern Iraq, but also in other lands whose present-day inhabitants follow Islam, and even in some lands whose inhabitants are not Islamic. The concept that "object veneration" associated with appreciation and study of the past is regarded by many who live there as a form of idolatry, to be met with hostility or at best with indifference, is appalling. But it is probably also entirely true. As a long-time "object venerator" to whom mankind's historical and cultural heritage is of very great importance, I perceive that this analytic look at the truth gives the lie to the foundations of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Those concerned about the "cultural heritage" of Iraq and other "source states" do not appear to be the many who live there, but instead the few, most of whom do not - antiquarians such as myself, archaeologists, and local elites who share little if anything with the Egyptian fellahin and their counterparts in other lands.  That presents a trenchant question: ifthe peoples of these lands are indifferent and even hostile to their "cultural heritage," what is the point in reserving it for them to ignore, or to destroy? Would it not be far more appropriate and beneficial to mankind to allow them to disseminate it to others who would appreciate and treasure it?
and of course, from his point of view, to make as much money as they can by selling them to collectors and museums and passing the money to the suppliers of these artefacts.


The URL of Barford's blog post is a classic example of slimy innuendo (and outright untruth) deceptively and knowingly presented in a manner that could hardly be more offensive or more misleading. I have made it abundantly clear that I not only do not "support ISIL," I oppose those barbaric jihadist thugs as strongly as I know how to do.

I did not say (and do not propose) that anyone should buy looted artifacts. I do not condone that, never have, and never will. I asked whether it would not be more appropriate to allow inhabitants of lands where "cultural heritage" is not valued by the mass of the people to disseminate artifacts to others who would appreciate and treasure them. There are licit ways to arrange this without "looting" and smuggling.

Finally I am getting more than a little tired of seeing snide, derogatory language such as "and of course, from his point of view, to make as much money as they can by selling them to collectors and museums and passing the money to the suppliers of these artefacts."

It has been alleged by some that Mr. Barford is either a Communist or Communist sympathizer. I have consistently rebuked such assertions, pointing out that his political affiliation is not publicly known. I will however say here that if Mr. Barford were a Communist, he could hardly write more offensively and more disdainfully regarding the sale of artifacts to collectors, which is the normal and customary process in most of the world, and has been so since long before Mr. Barford, or even archaeology itself, were conceived.

No one awards me an institutional grant or governmental salary to be a professional numismatist supplying ancient coins to collectors. I do not "feed at the public trough" as did Mr. Barford in those long ago days when he was actually (and briefly) employed as an archaeologist, and as do others who now join him in condemning collecting and trading in antiquities, including those as inoffensive as ancient coins. 

I have had to finance my business (supplying ancient coins to collectors) out of my own private resources, and it represents a huge investment. I don't earn as much (as a professional numismatist) as does a primary school teacher. There are no benefits or retirement plan. This is definitely a labor of love, and no one in his right mind would pursue it with profit being the primary motive.

Recently my esteemed friend Wayne Sayles deleted everything relating to "cultural property" from his own blog because he became utterly disgusted with seeing disgraceful insinuations and outright lies from such sources. The world is the poorer for the loss of his sagacious observations. 

This raises a trenchant question: How should an honest, ethical, law-abiding antiquarian deal with uncalled-for defamation of character and personal attacks from rabid anticollecting zealots? How can one best continue to candidly present pro-collecting views when assailed in an offensive, dishonorable manner?

Suggestions from friends and supporters (as comments) are welcomed.


Blogger John H said...

Good morning David. Is Barford a Communist or not? Here are two telling extracts from his book:-

The Early Slavs: Culture and Society in Early Medieval Europe, by P M Barford. 2001

From the Preface:-

“…as mentioned above, the present work is the result of a lengthy stay in what was then the People’s Republic of Poland, the Government of which was extremely generous in supporting my research, which then enabled me to take up employment at the University of Warsaw to continue my work. Let this book be in a small way part of the repayment of my debt I owe to those who helped my research.”

From the Preface:-

“The original research for this book would not have been possible were it not for all of those in the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of Poland for their interest in and funding of my initial research.”


John Howland

1:21 AM  
Blogger Dave Welsh said...


It is possible to feel gratitude toward a Communist government without actually being a Communist. This can result from commonality of interests.

Nevertheless his remarks do suggest a close and friendly relationship.

I am no Communist (quite the opposite actually) but I don't view Communism as being totally evil. It accomplished some good things, and the people who managed Russian, East European and Chinese Communism have not been so foolish as to refuse to allow it to evolve. I however believe that its original rigidly centralized approach to government is now obsolete, and largely discredited as inefficient.

3:03 AM  
Blogger Cultural Property Observer said...

Dave, I agree with you. No one I know, other perhaps than a very few number of high end antiquities and coin dealers, appears to makes much money at this on the collector side. Some archaeological entities seem to have made lots of money on State Department contracts, but not sure how much of this passes through to individuals.

As for Communism, having some relatives who lived under it and having travelled to Communist Hungary multiple times in my younger days to visit them, I'm not sure what good things it actually acomplished. As far as I can tell, its an evil ideology that at a minimum has repressed the civil rights of everyone who lived under it and did much worse at some times and in some countries like Russia, China, North Korea, Albaina, Romania, and a few others. While it's lost much of its luster, it's rebranded adherents continue to press its state control over all model in such places as UNESCO. My recollection is that she is a former Bulgarian communist official who has re-branded herself.

4:46 AM  
Blogger Dave Welsh said...


You wrote:
"My recollection is that she is a former Bulgarian communist official who has re-branded herself.My recollection is that she is a former Bulgarian communist official who has re-branded herself."

To whom were you referring?


10:20 AM  
Blogger Cultural Property Observer said...

Sorry, the current UNESCO head, Irina Bokova:

Obviously, somehow a line of my prior comment was dropped.

10:57 AM  
Blogger John H said...

Hi Dave:

At the time Barford was glad-handing and financed by the Polish Communists, indigenous Poles were being beaten, imprisoned without trial, murdered by the SB, and mostly short of food.

Imagine a US citizen doing the same with ISIS? I doubt you would be so generous.

In my opinion, Barford betrayed all Poles fighting to throw off the yoke of Communism in the fight for the freedom you and I enjoy.

Were I a Pole, I would have put him against a wall....


John Howland

12:01 PM  

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